Jerusalem and Tel Aviv may be the most well known Israeli cities, but a new one is quickly gaining international acclaim. An ancient-made-modern city in southern Israel, Be’er Sheva, has become the center of Start-Up Nation’s quickly growing cybersecurity arm.
A major push by the government and private sector has transformed the desert town into a high-tech center with a special emphasis on cybersecurity. Dozens of startups have joined multinationals such as EMC/RSA, Lockheed-Martin (LM), and others in opening R&D labs there, and they have drawn in impressive talent. The result, to date, is a budding ecosystem of bright minds, dedicated to a common goal of developing world-class cybersecurity technology.
Dubbed the “Capital of the Negev Desert,” Be’er Sheva has been locally known as a dusty pit stop between Tel Aviv and tourist destinations in the south of Israel. However, that’s no longer the case. Low real estate prices and new transportation options, including advancements to railway and highway systems, are facilitating a southbound migration. Making the move are ordinary Israelis and tech gurus, as well as some government offices and parts of the Israeli Army (IDF). And then there is Ben Gurion University (BGU), which offers Israel’s top graduate program in cybersecurity. Housing its own cybersecurity research institute, BGU has emerged as a top Israeli center for engineering, sciences, computers, and technology. With this mix of people, energy, facilities, and resources in place, sooner or later, something was going to spark a cyber-tech revolution.
That spark was lit in 2013, with the opening of the Gav-Yam Negev Advanced Technologies Park, a billion dollar facility, funded mostly by the Israeli government and Ben Gurion University. Almost immediately, companies large and small – many of them in the cybersecurity space – established themselves in the new innovation center, even when it was still in the planning stages. Among the first to head south was EMC/RSA. In 2014, the company signed a deal with US defense firm Lockheed Martin and BGU to seek out promising Israeli cybersecurity startups and help them develop their technologies into commercial products.
Other multinationals that have opened R&D labs and facilities in Be’er Sheva include Deutsche Telekom (which established its Israeli T-Labs branch in Be’er Sheva to collaborate with BGU), Mellanox, and IBM. Several incubators have sprung up at the site as well, including one run by Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), Israel’s largest and best performing venture capital firm, which is also the most active investor in early stage Israeli cybersecurity startups. For these reasons, there are dozens of startups, which now call Be’er Sheva home, including many cybersecurity firms. This swarm of startups also led coworking-space operator WeWork to choose Be’er Sheva as its third location in Israel.
When my cofounder and I created our own startup, SCADAfence, we were drawn to Be’er Sheva’s community. Together we have succeeded in creating a sense of synergy in our blooming cybersecurity hub. Worth noting in the mix are MorphiSec and Secret Double Octopus, which were founded based on BGU research, and also Coronet and SecBI. Be’er Sheva’s best known and most successful startup so far, CyActive, is no longer a startup. In 2015, PayPal acquired the barely 18-month-old company for an estimated price of more than $60 million. The company now serves as PayPal’s global cybersecurity R&D center, making PayPal the latest multinational to call Be’er Sheva its Israeli cybersecurity home.
There is much to be impressed by in Be’er Sheva: the facilities, the people, and the companies. However, what has made Be’er Sheva special for us is the ecosystem of camaraderie and altruism. Unlike almost any other community I have seen, the people and companies in Be’er Sheva seek to actively make each other successful. We introduce each other to investors, share time with visiting delegations, collaborate on go-to-market opportunities, and offer constructive critiques of each other’s ideas.
The government has continued to invest here — the prime minister regularly visits and has made clear that the technology sector has the government’s backing. Additionally, plans have been set for many of the IDF’s technology units, including the famous Unit 8200 intelligence corps and its cybersecurity arm, to relocate to Be’er Sheva in the coming years. When people are here for their army service, they will find themselves surrounded by army intelligence alumni and a world of opportunity to leverage their skills from the army into a professional career. They will also easily transition from teamwork in the army to the strong culture of collaboration we have developed in Be’er Sheva.
Yoni Shohet is CEO of SCADAfence.